Feb 19, 2006

Marrow, Real and Metaphorical

Well, I'm finally reading Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell. She's the young woman who decided to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. She blogged about it as she went, and turned it into a book. She was making the publicity rounds in the fall. I saw the book on the "New Books" shelf in my library, and remembered that I wanted to read it.

It's charming, really. I like her voice, personable and real. She lives in what she deprecatingly calls an "outer borough" of New York, in a "loft" apartment, with "loft" always in quotation marks. She makes all this labor-intensive food in a crappy little kitchen. Her husband is very understanding. They drink a lot of vodka and order Domino's bacon and jalapeno pizza if the dishes don't turn out so well.

It is a crazed mission. Yes, crazed is what you must be to murder three lobsters in your own kitchen, saw a bone to get out the pink jelly-like marrow, and engage in untold other carnivorous cruelties with what can only be called at best mediocre or in other cases entirely inadequate kitchenware. And aspic is best left in the dustbin of culinary history, to say nothing of oeufs en gelee, aspic with soft poached eggs chilled in it. If you disdain HOT runny eggs then, yeesh, Domino's it must be. I had an accidental-on-purpose 30 minutes to kill before picking the boys up at school last week, so I read the book in the Seven Stones coffee shop in Media (Fabulous coffee! Real mugs!). It was all just fine until I got to the part about the marrow:

"I clawed the stuff out bit by painful pink bit, until my knife was sunk into the leg bone up past the hilt. It made dreadful scraping noises--I felt like I could feel it in the center of my bones. A passing metaphor to explorers of the deep wilds of Africa does not seem out of place here--there was a definite Heart of Darkness quality to this. How much more interior can you get, after all, than the interior of bones? It's the center of the center of things. If marrow were a geological formation, it would be magma roiling under the earth's mantle. If it were a plant, it would be a delicate moss that grows only in the highest crags of Mount Everest, blooming with tiny white flowers for three days in the Nepalese spring. If it were a memory, it would be your first one, your most painful and repressed one, the one who made you who you are." (p. 75)

I thought to myself, "This girl can write and cook! And why am I sweating so much?" I read on:

"So there I was, scooping out the center of the center of things, thinking mostly that it was some nasty shit. Pink, as I think I've mentioned. Very wet. Not liquid, but not really solid, either--gluey clots of stuff that plopped down onto the cutting board."

I put the book down. Took a sip of coffee, which suddenly tasted awful. Took some deep breaths. I was sure I was going to either faint or vomit. Was I going into some kind of mild shock? I was still a bit weakened from the flu . . . . Would that girl in the corner call 911 if I fainted? Should I alert the staff of the way I was feeling? But I didn't even want to stand up. Thankfully, the feeling passed after I desparately tried to think of all things non-marrow-related for five minutes. I was reminded of the time I read Anthony Bourdain's The Raw and the Cooked while I was in bed with a bad back. You just know that when the words "extreme" and "food" go together, that omelettes and ice cream will give way to embryos and entrails, and not just the eating of them, but their gruesome preparation and, always, the term"delicacy" will be bandied about.

Anyway, marrow aside, Julie & Julia is a great read.

My latest culinary pursuit occurred yesterday, when I cooked Konigsberger Klopse for my Dad's birthday. That's German Meatballs. I used the meatloaf mix with pork, beef, and veal. What I really like is the lemon in them, and chopped anchovies. and little bits of chopped pickle in the gravy. Heh heh. Peculiar but good.

Also Nigella Lawson's Buttermilk Birthday Cake with vanilla frosting. It's from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. A wonderful rich white cake. I decorated it with blue frosting to indicate waves, Jack drew a surfer saying "Yo!" (Those Philly surfers!) and Will drew lava and blue and yellow squiggly somethings. There were seven candles instead of seventy-seven. With my dad's emphysema, he had to take a couple of breaths to blow out even that many. He is going to the Bahamas for five days on Wednesday, hence the water theme of the cake.

Enjoy the sunshine, Dad, live long, and suck the marrow out of life. I mean, it must taste good, right?


susan said...

Mmmm...the cake sounds wonderful.

I wonder whether Julie Powell would consider your reaction to her words a sign of success or failure?

Anjali said...

Sounds like a fabulous read. Must get to that coffee shop in Media!

mc said...

I've been wanting to read that book, but since it didn't appear under the Christmas tree and we are practicing the New Frugality, I never got a copy of it. Thanks for the reminder of ye olde public library!

Sugarmama said...

I can't believe I haven't already heard of this book. I'm definitely going out to get my copy soon. It sounds like just my kind of thing, marrow notwithstanding.

I also am fond of the Domestic Goddess book. Have I mentioned before that I think we're cookbook soul sisters?

Mama D said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Glad you did cause now I know where yours is! It's funny you mention Nigella because I was looking in the 'Forever Summer' cookbook I have for appetizers and all I could find were dishes will baby squid... Ick. Seriously. I haven't cooked anything out of that book (a friend gave it to me) but perhaps I should give it another try as long as it doesn't have baby squid in it.